08/05/2011 07:04 EDT | Updated 10/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Small Canadian job gains in July keep upward momentum as unemployment rate falls

OTTAWA - Slower job growth in July took some wind out of the Canadian economy's sails, with a scant gain that was about half what economists expected but still enough to build on three consecutive months of increases.

There was good news out of the United States too, but even though the job numbers from Canada's largest trading partner were stronger than expected, it wasn't enough to settle the frayed nerves of jittery investors still reeling from the worst stock-market sell-off since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Toronto stock market was down again Friday morning following Thursday's 436-point dip, the worst one-day loss in more than two years.

Investors may have been unimpressed by a slowing Canadian economy that added just 7,100 jobs in July — economists had expected roughly double that — following strong gains of 28,400 in June, 22,300 in May and 58,300 in April.

Statistics Canada said Friday the country's unemployment rate fell last month to 7.2 per cent — its lowest level since December 2008 — as fewer people entered the workforce. There were 25,500 more full-time workers and 18,400 fewer part-time workers in July.

"Not exactly what the doctor ordered, but not bad," BMO Capital Markets deputy chief economist Doug Porter wrote in a note to investors.

"The Canadian jobs report sets a reasonably good table. The headline jobs tally was a touch light, but the details of the report are unambiguously healthier — the strong gain in full-time jobs, the pop in private sector employment, and the fact that the overall number was skewed lower by yet another July drop in education employment."

The Canadian data were released Friday morning, before the U.S. Labour Department reported job numbers that were a welcome surprise for many analysts who had predicted a softer showing.

The unemployment rate in the United States fell to 9.1 per cent last month from 9.2 per cent in June. American employers added 117,000 jobs last month. That is an improvement from the past two months.

All eyes were turned to the U.S. before the July jobs data was released, with the general feeling that the monthly payroll numbers would either ease or exacerbate jitters on Wall Street.

Fears about another recession within the next year and heightened concerns about Europe's debt crisis on Thursday triggered a dramatic stock market sell-off.

But in Canada, while the number of net jobs created was lower than predicted, the unemployment rate came it pretty much as economists had forecast.

"Markets had been expecting an unchanged position," Peter Buchanan, senior economist at CIBC World Markets, wrote in an investors' note.

"A fairly mixed report overall, with the details somewhat better than the headline."

Increases in the private sector were offset by losses in the public sector and fewer people who were self employed.

The construction, transportation and warehousing, and retail and wholesale sectors led the gains. There were 31,000 more construction jobs, 28,000 more transportation and warehousing jobs and 28,000 more retail and wholesale jobs in June. Even manufacturing posted a gain.

On the flip side, there were fewer jobs in health-care and social assistance, while the number of public administration and management jobs was also down.

Natural resources also had an off month and there were fewer agriculture jobs.

"Just looking at the industry breakdown would suggest the cyclical components of the economy are on fire, while the public sector is pulling back — which hardly jibes with the anecdotal evidence, or any other evidence for that matter," Porter wrote.

Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador posted job gains in July, while Ontario saw losses.

Employment was down 22,400 jobs in Ontario following a slight increase in June. Despite the drop, employment growth over the last year stands at 1.6 per cent, which is similar to the national growth rate.